Searching for Answers: Grizzlies Drop Fifth-Straight to Hawks, 107-90
By: Jeffrey Wright
MEMPHIS | The opportunity is often lost by deliberating, according to Roman writer Publilius Syrus.
One can’t help but wander if the Memphis Grizzlies lost their opportunity of making any type of realistic postseason run by deliberating lineup changes perhaps the point of overt-hinking.
The Grizzlies (36-30) lost their fifth-consecutive game on Saturday night to the Atlanta Hawks (37-29) by a score of 107-90, in a game which they never led. The Grizzlies had twice as many turnovers (10) as they had made field goals (5) during the first quarter.
For the second time in three games this week, Head Coach David Fizdale elected to shuffle his lineup again, choosing to start Mike Conley, James Ennis, III, Chandler Parsons, JaMychal Green, and Marc Gasol, and yet again, it was a move that didn’t work as that group combined to go -59 in the +/- category.
After fighting to cut the Hawks 20-point lead down to just seven with less than a minute to play in the first half, the Grizzlies committed a costly turnover, the Hawks were able to capitalize and finish the half on a 5-0 run that extended the lead back to 12 points. Then, for the seventh time in nine games, the Grizzlies were outscored in the third quarter as the Hawks built a 20-point lead by the end of the third.
“That’s where it’s at right now,” Fizdale said. “You know when it rains, it pours, like the other night when Jamal Crawford hits a shot from half court and breaks your back. When you’re playing bad, you’re playing bad.”
The Grizzlies are in the midst of their worst losing streak since they lost six-straight from March 22-April 3 of last season, and that streak was understandable given the injuries that team had sustained at that point. Further, the Grizzlies aren’t simply losing; they’re getting blown out as they’ve lost all four games by a combined 48 points and only the Dallas loss was by a single-digit margin.
“We’ve looked at everything,” Fizdale said of the second-half struggles. “Lineups, getting them out early to warm up, everything you could think of, but for some reason right now, we are not coming out of the locker room with any pop, and I just can’t put my thumb on it right now. I have to get in to the film room and lean on what I know, and that’s geting into the film and doing the work and getting my staff grinding, and we are going to try to figure it out.”
For all of the hysteria and criticism that surrounded the grit-and-grind mantra, even a cynic would admit that the Grizzlies were one of the league’s best defensive teams during the previous six seasons. However, since the return of the All-Star Break, the Grizzlies rank last in the league in defensive efficiency.
“First things first, we just have to clean up mentally,” Allen said. “We need to get back trusting each other on the defensive end, and it starts there. Once we get on the same page collectively, we are just that. With our mindset being clear, not worrying about when you are going to play or how you are going to play, just coming out and playing the kid’s game of basketball. Get you some defensive stops and let your defense dictate your offense, and you build from there. Obviously, it’s been a tough time for us, but we say ‘together’ in the huddle, and we have to be together right now. That’s how we have to ride.”
I don’t think that Fizdale made any changes without careful consideration, but you do have to wonder if the changes were necessary.
The Grizzlies were 22-14 before January 1, and despite having the same point differential, a 14-14 record after January 1 prompted Fizdale to make changes, changes that he insisted were inspired to elevate the Grizzlies to a championship contender. While no sane person faults him for trying to raise the proverbial ceiling of his team, he simultaneously lowered his team’s floor to a level that almost assures an quick playoff exit in the first round.
The Grizzlies have always been a flawed team. Since the beginning of the season, they had back-up point guard concerns, concerns that still plague the team through 66 games. The Grizzlies didn’t have championship-level wing players during the first game of this season, and they still don’t have them.
Fizdale laid the foundations for raising the expectations for this franchise. He added the three-point shot to Marc Gasol’s game, he turned Mike Conley into a premier-scoring threat, and he convinced Zach Randolph to accept a role on the bench to give his second unit a lift in production, all moves that have added a new dimension to the Grizzlies roster.
However, if you could simply snap your fingers and declare yourself a championship contender, there would be 30 championship contenders. By attempting to undertake the impossible, make this roster a championship contender, the Grizzlies find themselves in the midst of their lowest point of the season, leaving many to question the purpose, even Fizadale who said during the post-game press conference that he was likely to go back to his original rotation of Conley, Allen, Parsons, Green, and Gasol.
However, one has to consider whether the opportunity to finish in the top-4 of the Western Conference, hold home-court advantage for a playoff series, and possibly position itself for a deep run has now been lost because of deliberating an unnecessary decision.
“We’re just bad right now,” Fizdale said. “For whatever reason we can’t get it together. I thought we had a great shot tonight…I’m searching for small victories right now.”
Currently, that’s where the Grizzlies are, searching for small moral victories, not actual victories.